64. Memorandum From the Special Assistant in the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs (Hoyt) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Rubottom)1
- Reports from Embassies on Milton Eisenhower Trip
A more detailed summary of the reports on each country follows. In general, however, Stephansky does not believe the situation is favorable for a visit to Panama. Newbegin believes it should be postponed [Page 257] insofar as Honduras is concerned for three months, and if there is a labor strike—which seems possible—Dr. Eisenhower should not visit Honduras. I understand you have additional information on Nicaragua. Whelan feels the visit might degenerate into a debate in which Dr. Eisenhower would be on the defensive unless we can gain some psychological advantage for the US position. Willauer points out that the reorganization of the Home Guard forces makes them an unknown quantity which may not be able to maintain control should an incident occur. Mallory definitely has reservations as to the possibility of incidents. Ydigoras previously told us privately that he would appreciate the visit being postponed for one or two months. Uncontrollable student demonstrations on June 17, the failure of the Ydigoras Government to act against communist exiles and the general disturbed political situation in Guatemala give little hope that the situation there will be propitious. Only in El Salvador does everyone seem to concur that the visit would be propitious at this time.
Although there has not been any violence in Panama during the last two weeks, the state of siege was only lifted on June 17. The Government is very much concerned over activities of the university students, and it is expected that now that censorship is off there will be a rash of newspaper stories complete with pictures featuring street fighting, dead and wounded students, etc.
ARA’s Labor Advisor,2 who has just been sent to assess the situation in the six countries which Dr. Eisenhower will visit, reports that the situation in Panama was not, as of June 22, favorable for the Eisenhower visit.
He reports that the students are arrogant and aggressive, feel they have the upper hand with the Government, and that the Guardia Nacional is on the defensive because of alleged brutality last month. He believes the visit could present a tempting opportunity for the opposition and communists to provoke students’ broad complaints against the Government to include grievances against the United States in order to embarrass the Government and harass the Guardia Nacional. He also points out that the communists might receive orders to agitate the occasion of the Eisenhower visit in order to divert attention from current Soviet embarrassment over the Nagy execution.3
He urges the cancellation of the visit—providing student unrest continues—and believes that it could be done without loss of prestige because:
- The prevailing impression that the visit has been cancelled.
- Announcement that the visit was postponed generated little comment (this is true throughout the whole area and in the US press).
- The entire matter of the visit has been eclipsed in Panama by the May incidents.
- The present student agitation is not directed at the United States and therefore we would not truly be running away from anything. On the other hand, if student unrest continues, we risk walking into a trap of our own creation by offering an opportunity to convert domestic discontent into anti-US demonstrations.
The Embassy, in addition, states that the Government had hoped the students would be quiet until the Assembly meets in October but there are growing indications that trouble may be brewing before that time. The Foreign Minister4 has said that the students appear eager to provoke incidents with the Guardia Nacional and could even try to embarrass the Government by using Dr. Eisenhower’s visit as a pretext for such incidents. The Foreign Minister made the suggestion that it might be necessary to put the Guardia Nacional personnel assigned to protect Dr. Eisenhower in plain clothes to conceal their identity.
The Embassy has some concern over the proximity of the new schedule to the Congress of Americanists which is including those from behind the Iron Curtain who will presumably arrive in Costa Rica July 18 and 19 for the opening of the Congress on July 20. It also points out that the effectiveness of the new and reorganized public forces has not been tested and that the ability of these forces (which, you will recall, have been almost completely reorganized since Echandi took office) to quell any sizeable disturbance is still doubtful.
The Embassy points out that although the overwhelming majority of Costa Ricans are basically friendly toward the United States, many are unhappy over aspects of US policy of a nature such as that expressed by ex-President Figueres in his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee the other day.5 [1 sentence (31/2 lines of source text) not declassified]
The Ambassador6 has reiterated statements of May 20 which were: “While I am confident Dr. Eisenhower can be protected in this country from gross discourtesies, I fear unless we can do something to regain the psychological offensive his visit to this area may turn into a [Page 259] round of debates in which he will appear to be only on the defensive and which will serve largely to confirm Central Americans in the irresponsible tendency to blame the US for their troubles.”7
[2 sentences (41/2 lines of source text) not declassified] I think the fact that such an attitude could be expressed in a place like Nicaragua is indicative of the type of student action we might expect on the trip.
Although the President8 has stated that the new proposed dates for the Eisenhower visit are entirely satisfactory, the Embassy recommends postponing the visit at least three months longer. It points out that present negotiations for contracts between the United Fruit Company and labor unions got off to a bad start and that there is a real possibility that the north coast may be in the throes of a strike by the end of July. Should this occur, the overwhelming majority of the Honduran population would support the workers against the fruit company, with resultant anti-American feeling. The Embassy adds that should the strike develop, it would be inadvisable for Dr. Eisenhower to be in the country at that time.
The Embassy concludes that if the strike is averted, it sees a minimum of risk and unfriendly demonstrations, that Honduras is generally well disposed to the US and there is relatively little hostility. It believes Dr. Eisenhower would be generally well received, although there could be no guarantee that incidents precipitated by subversive or other discontented individuals would not arise.
President Lemus has commented on the security aspects of the Eisenhower visit by reiterating to our Ambassador that the Eisenhower party would not be exposed to any unpleasantness while in El Salvador. He gave categoric assurance that the party would be safe and also free from unpleasant demonstrations. The Foreign Minister has said that the proposed new dates are agreeable and the Embassy has stated that with some qualifications the timing of the visit in the near future is propitious.[Page 260]
We have not received word as to the Guatemalan Government’s reaction to the new proposed dates. While here recently, Ambassador Mallory emphasized that the visit should not take place before July 26 (anniversary of Castillo Armas’ death). The Ambassador was not at all sanguine about the possibility of avoiding incidents in Guatemala.
On June 18 the Embassy reported an incident in the Guatemalan Congress involving the interpolation of the Finance Minister9 in the IRCA tax case. The gallery was described as hostile and packed with “uncontrollable student and other leftist agitators.” The Finance Minister’s statements were ridiculed by the PR Congressmen and the gallery. He was unable to speak above the shouted threats and insults from the gallery. Students and other leftists departed the Congress shouting vivas for Arevalo and Arbenz. When a sizeable group of the market women (traditionally friendly to the US) replied with shouts of “communists”, fighting broke out and was only contained by the presence of a large police detachment.
[less than 1 line of source text not declassified] reports had indicated that the Ydigoras Government might deport some of the principal communists. This has not been done as yet. In addition, reports are now coming in that President Ydigoras is contemplating declaring a state of siege in order to oust some of his political opponents and the communists. If a state of siege is declared prior to the Eisenhower visit, it will almost certainly provoke protests from friends and adherents of those ousted and will create an atmosphere which would be hostile to us.
- Source: Department of State, ARA Special Assistant’s Files: Lot 60 D 513, Eisenhower—Mr. Rubottom’s Briefing Folder. Secret.↩
- Benjamin S. Stephansky.↩
- Imre Nagy, former Prime Minister of Hungary, was executed on June 17, 1958.↩
- Miguel J. Moreno.↩
- José Figueres, former President of Costa Rica, testified on June 10 before a closed session of the House Inter-American Affairs Subcommittee that the outbursts of violence directed at Vice President Nixon had been manifestations of popular displeasure in Latin America against U.S. economic policies.↩
- Thomas E. Whelan.↩
- The quotation is from telegram 302 from Managua, May 20. (Department of State, Central Files, 033.1100–NI/5–2058)↩
- Ramón Villeda Morales.↩
- Julio Prado Garcia Salas.↩